Updated: Apr 29, 2021
‘Man is what he eats,’ wrote Feuerbach almost two centuries ago, at a time when a revolution shook the German society. Little did he know that his philosophical exclamation, originally meant to reflect on the political and economic circumstances of the times he lived in, would soon turn into the best known phrase about the link between food and the human state of being. This maxim, used by vegetarians all around the world, has many layers of insights embedded behind its simple, yet wise, words.
Food has a profound effect on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. To begin with, food rich in nutrients is a foundation for a balanced, healthy and happy life. Vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains and nuts provide plenty of adequate dietary choices to humans. Eating non-vegetarian food, on the other hand, means to also consume a wide range of ingredients detrimental to our wellbeing — antibiotics and steroids used for animal growth in the meat industry, and ‘fear hormones’ (such as dopamine and cortisol) released by farm animals, to name but a few. Apart from the physical harm which the non-vegetarian food brings to our body, with such food we also ingest stress, anxiety, fear, panic and guilt.
Hippocrates, the father of ancient Greek medicine, is often credited for saying ‘Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food’. Natural, vegetarian and healthy food decreases the risks of chronic diseases, calms the mind, increases vitality, and ultimately leads to longevity. Therefore, it does not take much thinking or complex analysis to decide what constitutes an empathetic and intelligent dietary lifestyle.
On the path of inner transformation, we face Truth. Some facets of that Truth can often be uncomfortable, such as the necessity to take full responsibility for our choices, actions and life circumstances. Violence begets violence, whether it is directed towards others or towards oneself. Improper food choices can slow down our spiritual growth, because it exploits and harms others (animals), deteriorates our own wellbeing, and harms the Planet Earth (heavy water footprint, notoriously high greenhouse gas emissions caused by animal farming).
Non-vegetarians are typically less inclined towards spiritual practice, and when they do embark on the path of meditation, they find it difficult to enter a state of stillness or relaxation. The body is restless, emotions unpredictable, and the mind paces. At the same time, it is difficult to achieve focus, because unbalanced, non-vegetarian diet, turns one either lethargic or hyperactive.
To properly understand the link between spirituality and food, we can look at some of the effects of regular meditation practice. Meditation transforms our energy. It clears the chakras, or the energy centers of our body. It heals energy blockages, especially in the heart. It attunes the body to the cosmic flow of energy, and makes us more receptive to higher, subtle forms of energy. It raises our vibrations and accelerates our spiritual evolution. We become conscious and aware of the oneness of all life — and that way, love and empathy start flowering in our being. To be able to traverse this spiritual path with grace and ease, it is necessary to drop any form of aggression, violence and destructiveness. At this stage, to consume meat would mean to turn a blind eye to the fact that, as long as we eat meat, we perpetuate the pain and suffering of other sentient beings. To eat meat would mean to continue filling ourselves with food that has low vibrations and triggers our base, survival instincts. To be a non-vegetarian would mean to close our gates to cosmic energy flow, since emotions of cruelty, aggression, fear, ego-centeredness and lack of compassion can never resonate with higher vibrational frequencies.
It is for these reasons that spiritual masters across the world have always urged humans to turn vegetarian. Being a vegetarian is so much more than a mere spiritual dogma — it is a crucial step on the path of any authentic spirituality. Knowing what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat, leads to mindfulness in our everyday life. Once we stop unconsciously stuffing ourselves with the wrong kind of food, we can become more perceptive to the potentials within us that are still dormant.
Finally, it is good to know that the person who prepares the meal is as important as the food being cooked. Advanced spiritual adepts and teachers have been cognizant of the fact that the food we eat is easily imprinted with the qualities of the person who prepares it. Even when the ingredients have sattvic (clean, pure, vital and energetic) qualities, a cook who is not in a balanced state of mind and does not focus on the task at hand, the meal loses of its quality, and carries traces of undesirable emotional charge. It is for this reason that, in many spiritual traditions, only a particular devotee/disciple/meditator is allowed to cook food for the Master. Mindful cooking, when paired with the knowledge of the right kind of food, is a recipe for success on the journey of spirituality.